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Why We Don’t Share Salaries

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In the past there has been great debate as to why personal finance bloggers are so willing to share their net worths but aren’t so forthcoming with their salaries – I was one of them (until recently, now I don’t share either, ha!). It’s been talked about on other blogs as well but I wanted to put forth my theory as to why it doesn’t bother us to learn Tiger Woods’ or Bill Gates’ or the President’s salary and it’s not terribly outlandish (and you’ve probably heard it before).

People keep their salaries private because they use it to compare how successful they are against others. If you make $30,000 now and your friend is making $35,000, then you feel bad (if you think you don’t feel bad, please be honest with yourself; if you still don’t feel bad, I applaud you because you are likely in the minority). Why is the other guy making $5k more than you? Why are you paid less? Why is he or she paid more? Am I a jerk for even thinking this? The answer is there is no answer, there are plenty of reasons why the other person is making more (or less) and it likely has nothing to do with you or his or her ability. Oh, and you’re not a jerk, it’s natural to compare anything. The other person might be paid more because they started at a time when the competition was hot; the other person might be paid more because they’re doing a slightly different job; the other person might be paid more because they honestly are better than you or harder working and you just don’t know it. Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons and a majority have nothing to do with you… but it’s hard to accept that. That’s why you don’t share salaries. You don’t want other people to feel bad and you don’t want to feel bad yourself; it’s okay.

So why doesn’t it bother you to find out how much Tiger Woods makes? You can’t compare to Tiger Woods unless you’re Phil Mickelson or VJ Singh, you’re probably neither (if you are, shoot me an email!). You don’t compare yourself to Donald Trump, you don’t compare yourself to Martha Stewart, and you don’t compare yourself to Steve Jobs – that’s why it doesn’t matter if you know how much they bank each month.

Oh, Steve Jobs makes a dollar each year… you probably make more and I think he’s okay with that.

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Why We Don’t Share Salaries”

  1. Chris says:

    Salary is irrelevant. Having lots of money is nice and all, but usually it just gets burned away by having more ‘stuff’. And that stuff usually ends up in a garage sale, in the trash, or can only be remembered with a vacation photo album.

    Who’s better off? A guy making 100k a year with his entire salary tied up in fixed bills and minimum credit card payments or the guy making 35k with no debt socking 20% of his salary away into retirement, short term savings, and investments?

    • jim says:

      Salary is not irrelevant at all, you just picked your extreme cases and slapped a larger salary on the one that’s worse off. Just because you have more money doesn’t mean you will buy more stuff.

      Who’s better off? A guy making $35k with his entire salary tied up in fixed bills and minimum credit card payments or the guy making $100k with no debt socking 20% of his salary away into retirement, short term savings, and investments?

  2. Chris says:

    Salary itself is irrelevant to whether a person is financially secure or not, it doesn’t necessarily make someone ‘better off’. Your behavior and how you manage your finances is what matters. That was my point.

  3. Punny Money says:

    “Why don’t we share salaries?”

    You first.

  4. mapgirl says:

    Point to Nick! Oh and I know where you work and I could guess your salary if I asked around. heh heh. I keep mine more or less posted up at NetWorthIQ. It’s still less than my old college roommates who went to Harvard and UCLA for law school so I don’t think it really matters. I’ve got my health, my happiness and my condo. My friends lose on at least one of those three if not two.

  5. Michelle says:

    Another reason we don’t share salaries? Cuz our companies will suffer if we do. At one job, I tracked employee productivity. This included a factor for salary – higher salaries had better be producing more than lower salaries.

    I watched (without saying a word, and I now I regret it) as a man got hired at $110k to do the same job a woman had been doing for years at $90k. After a year, she was still about twice as productive as he was, and he was still making $20k more than she was.

    If she had known she was getting screwed, she would have demanded higher pay. Because we’ve been programmed to keep this info quiet, they get to discriminate at will.

  6. I’m still confused as to why personal finance bloggers don’t share salary. I’m not sure that many of my readers could compare themselves to me (software engineer in Silicon Valley). Those that could probably A) make more than me B) can figure out for themselves roughly what a 31 year old software engineer would make in Silicon Valley. It’s pretty much at Salary.com or PayScale.com.

    I think I keep mine secret because if you thinking about the above information, my salary is going to be above average, perhaps far above average. Readers could focus on that and discount my message on the basis that it “won’t apply to their income level” – even if it does.

    So my question is, since most people can’t really compare themselves to you, why wouldn’t you share salary?

  7. Jess says:

    I know in most Asian cultures we do share salaries (I wonder if Europeans do as well).

    I admit it does cause some envy/jealousy but sometimes it’s also a way for people to bond and share problems.

  8. Tricia says:

    I wasn’t going to put salary information up at all, but after I started posting expense reports, it seemed like I had to show the income side for it all to make some sense.

    I won’t break it down, though, to show my salary from my job. I guess I’m too concerned about a co-worker or my boss getting upset if that information was made public.

  9. dong says:

    I think in general it’s good to share salaries but after a certain point it can become touchy. I mean i know how much my doctor friends maket since it’s well known how well they do for themselves, but my what I do is more shrouded in mystery (and is much more variable) I feel less comfortable sharing my entire pay…

  10. zen says:

    It’s all relative poverty – you will always feel “poorer” making 10k less than the next guy, regardless if you pull in six figures or not.

    “Richness” and “poorness” is all relative to perspective.

  11. Tim says:

    i don’t think it really matters if you keep it private or not. if you are a pf blogger, i think it’s useful for people to know the pf blogger’s salary in terms of ability to save. a pf blogger with $100k/yr doling out advice or displaying tracking of savings, just isn’t the same as someone earning $30k/yr trying to do the same thing, all things being equal. i for one see it as a point of credibility.

  12. Tim says:

    oh, i make $88600 after taxes and my wife makes $48k after taxes and we save roughly 98% (except when we are saving for a trip or purchase, then it will dip some). there are plenty of people who make more and those who make less, especially considering we are in our early thirties.

    bottom line, it’s like keeping up with the joneses in comparing salaries. the only time is should matter what others are making is when you think you should be making the same or more. if you think that, then you need to do something about it rather than feel jealous etc over salary.

    Michelle, I disagree about companies will suffer. i think companies should set up some sort of standardized pay scales for jobs like the government does. i haven’t seen a company yet where people didn’t know what others were making. some people are content, others just don’t know how to ask for what they are worth.

    again, lazy man, i think it comes down to credibility. if you have above average salary, you have the ability to pay off debt or save more than someone with a lower salary (i’m speaking generally).

  13. shelly says:

    Salary is not always irrelevant. take for example transitions between companies or even yearly reviews – wouldn’t you like knowing better your landscape (BTW I recently used the SalaryBase project at http://www.salarybase.com)

  14. Star Money Articles for the Week of May 28

    Here are interesting posts and news this week from the MoneyBlogNetwork and beyond: Consumerism Commentary asks if the fear of throwing away money is keeping you from quitting. AllFinancialMatters wonders if organic milk is worth the cost. MightyBargai…

  15. FFB says:

    I’m willing to talk about my and my wife’s salary in general terms. I’m not going to list exact numbers for each of us, and I’ll round the numbers a bit and not tell you whether I’ve rounded them up or down. Like Tim said, me saying “I’m saving XXX dollars a month” when I make four times as much as someone else doesn’t lend me much credibility. But when I say we make around $110k between the two of us, and our relatively fixed expenses are around $4k/month (mmm … Southern California living!), then you can compare my situation to yours.

  16. anon says:

    @Tim
    “i make $88600 after taxes and my wife makes $48k after taxes and we save roughly 98%”
    You live on $2700 a year? What???


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